Evil gets its comeuppance

Sing a Song of Sixpence

By Norman Robbins
Directed by Shela Xoregos
Musical direction by Bonita Labossiere Mohney
Choreography by Schellie Archbold
British American Theatre Alliance
HERE Arts Center
145 Sixth Avenue (647-0202)
Equity showcase (closes Dec. 22)
Review by Rebecca Longworth

For its first production, the British American Theatre Alliance brings the British holiday tradition of pantomime -- more affectionately known as "panto" -- to downtown New York. Panto is a very specific genre of farce, usually centered on a fairytale and traditionally starring a woman as the "Principal Boy" (here played delicately by the accidentally sultry Angie Moore) and a male comedian as the "Pantomime Dame" (Angus Hepburn in buffoonish frumpy drag). Panto also tends to incorporate plenty of audience interaction, and despite a willing but reticent matinee crowd, Sixpence held delightfully to all these traditions.

Sixpence began with the entire ensemble singing the refrain "Oh What a Jolly Land is England" to the accompaniment of various hand percussion instruments and an accordion played by Musical Maestro Jennifer Almiron. Their superior voices clearly indicated that though modest in its production values, plenty of talent was on exhibit. In some later songs the full sound of the opening number was replaced by a lone violin (again Almiron) or kazoo, which sounded unfortunately too sparse, but the accordion did make a welcome return. Norman Robbins's story ingeniously incorporates all the elements of the titular nursery rhyme into a wittily updated fairytale where the ranks of good triumph, although they include gold-digging royalty and flaky fairies.

The cast as a whole possessed an admirable amount of energy, and delivered earnest, adept performances. The direction should have provided more variety in pacing, the better to punctuate both the verbal and physical comedy, which ran the gamut from witticisms to slapstick and quick puns to more elaborate jokes, with a few genuine groaners. Matthew R. Wilson as Simple Simon and Hepburn as Dame Durdon get the preponderance of groaners, and played opposite each other with great affection for their roles. Hepburn was uproariously ugly, eliciting moans of disgust from the audience as he showed off the Dame's pocketed pantaloons and argyle socks covering hairy masculine legs. The bouncily beautiful Princess Rosemary of Cornucopia (Mary Melyssa Hall) displayed a gorgeous singing voice with her comical penchant for musical theater, and Gigi Marceau Clarke was convincingly conniving as Queen Dilly of Utopia. Moore's Prince Valentine was appropriately ineffectual in the requisite fishnets, shorts, and thigh-high boots, and Valentine's nemesis Witch Watt (pronounced "Which What," get it?) was given an evilly rhyming voice and scheming physicality by Jacki Goldhammer. Stealing the show was Marge Royce as the Fairy Gossamer, a magic-cellphone-toting sprite with Valley Girl mannerisms and a highly developed fashion sense.

The lighting, by Dave Feldman, was simple but provided colors to set the mood of different scenes. Jonathan Ellers's main set piece, which served as a table, wagon, witch's lair, "Rock of Eternity," and blackbird pie, was inventive but cumbersome; his Venetian blinds that could change to be a backdrop for Cornucopia, a woodland, and the witch's lair were more easily managed and lent a lovely storybook quality to the stage. Rosemary Ponzo's costumes were the most elaborate production element and lent a means of immediate identification to the stock characters.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing/Musical Direction/Choreography: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Rebecca Longworth